Paul: Welcome to another episode of The App Guy Podcast. I am your host, it's Paul Kemp. I love this show, I get to meet some of the most amazing entrepreneurs, founders and CEOs from literally around the world. Let me tell you just briefly that before I set up this podcast, I got into technology and I always wanted this type of technology that would charge our devices and all the sorts of things that we use in our daily life. Finally, after 374 episodes, I've got a founder on the phone who's going to be talking to us about wireless charging in the age of connectivity. I'm really excited. Stay tuned for this; of course, you can get show notes from going to theappguy.co, it's episode 374.
Let me introduce my guest, it's Omri Lachman and he is the CEO and co-founder of Humavox and we're going to talk about wireless charging. Omri, welcome to The App Guy Podcast.
Omri: Thank you for having me, Paul.
Paul: Thank you for coming on. I'm so excited by this subject. In 2009, I had this idea of throwing all your devices into a bag and having them charge automatically because there are wires everywhere. You've done something about it, obviously, so how did you get the idea for Humavox?
Omri: Actually, back at the time, my co-founder, Asaf Elssibony and myself were childhood friends and he comes with electronics and engineering backgrounds... We stumbled upon this from even, I'd say, an emotional place. We were looking at wireless power at the time, and all we could see at the time was magnetic field induction aiming to charge smartphones. It is a pain we all know as users, we all have smartphones, they all go out of power. But at the time, as I said, from more emotional reasons, we were looking at more meaningful electronic devices like healthcare devices - home healthcare devices - that are not used mostly by you and me, the tech fans, it's used by common people, our folks, our kids. Those devices seem to occasionally need wireless charging more than our smartphones. The existing technologies at the time... And by the way, as we speak, the more common technologies for wireless charging are those magnetic field inductions, and the physics behind those technologies is actually a huge block from addressing any other device that is smaller, curved and cannot be precisely placed by the user. So it means that wireless charging wasn't and still isn't really seamless. That was a strong enough of a drive to get us to do something about it.
Paul: It's massively disrupting because the vision for the future is that the whole world will not need any leads to connect to their devices. But where are we at the moment, then? Give us an example of what you can do from a wireless charging perspective.
Omri: Like I said, we wanted to bring wireless charging to a way it's addressing - or addressable - for multiple devices, not just smartphones, tablets or laptops. We wanted something that can actually be seamless. Everyone likes to say 'seamless', but when we say 'seamless' it means that we don't need to think about it. Like Wi-Fi - it's just out there for us to use. So we looked around and realized that if we want to turn this into a real seamless experience then it can't have just one user experience or user interface for charging. It's can't be a pad, or a mat, or a surface on top of which we'll place devices because across the board, across market categories, across users, the experience is changing, the interface is changing, the user is changing, and we want to be able to allow the same user - or a different user, for the same type of device - to charge the device in an intuitive way. We basically looked around and realized that the common denominator for all of these, let's say, smaller-shaping devices now called the IoT and wearable tech, the common denominator is that this is not a smartphone. We will probably not be just throwing them on the kitchen counter or bedside like we do with our phones. We will probably store them, especially because it's tinier, it's more expensive, it's more personalized. It's not something we carry, it's something we wear. So we wanted to create something that would cover all those various scenarios and allow the device makers or the manufacturers to basically blend wireless charging into their design desires, rather than try to fit their designs into the physics of wireless charging. So what we actually do, we developed a way that allows us to turn a volume into a charging zone. What is a volume? It's a phrase that we kind of fumbled our way until we came up with it, because initially when you look at our website or you look at our work, it looks like we're doing charging boxes. We're not doing charging boxes; actually, we're not even a product company. When we say a volume, that's actually those places in life where we keep our devices, or where we just place them when they're in idle mode. A volume can be your car's cup holder; when you step into your car and you just throw your smartphone in that cup holder because that's what people do. That's what we mean when we say, "Let's blend wireless charging into life. Let's tap existing usability patterns, that users already do, and let's blend wireless charging into those experiences."
Paul: Omri, first of all, this is great. I have to say, you're not doing some whacky experiment behind you because I know that there's a big thunderstorm, we can hear the crack of lightning. Talk about nature...
Omri: Yes, that's just the guys in the lab.
Paul: ... experimenting with the charging. So let me just try to understand this then for the benefit of me and the audience here: are you saying that we can remove our leads connecting physically to the device, but we have to actually put them into some kind of volume, rather than have them charge for example on our wrists?
Omri: Correct. One of the things that we're doing right now is charging over distance. Just to give you some background... Opposed to the existing and more, let's say, common methods of charging, we're using RF - radio frequencies - and usually a higher frequency band, so around the bands that are used for wireless communications; it gave us several benefits. One of the first things we did was actually play around with shooting power over distance. When we did our own surveys and talked to consumers, we realized that people are not really looking for secret laser beams to charge their devices while in their living room or next to their bed. There's a lot of consumer psychology around everything, and ultimately when we're talking about wireless power, wireless energy, at some point people would like to know where that energy is coming from, how effective this energy is... So we realized that for wearable devices, whether it's for healthcare, sports, mobile, whatever, users will keep taking the device occasionally off their wrists, off their body, whatever type of product we can think of.
Paul: I have say to Omri, I obviously would love a future where when I walk into my home, everything then is charging through some kind of Wi-Fi where I don't have to think about it. If you think about smartphones, remember all those scary stories when we first had smartphones, that they were going to melt our brains and we mustn't put them anywhere towards our head. That was, obviously, discredited, but with any new technology, there is a kind of fear that comes with it. Is that what you're saying?
Omri: The main issue right now when we're thinking about power over distance, whether it's throughout the room or even across half a meter, for example, is the fact that wireless charging is all about efficiency. As we know, the rules of energy preservations are still there for those of us who practice the physics of the technology. So when you're actually transmitting energy, especially in those forms of wireless charging that can actually be targeted for a certain distance, the energy loss is quite substantial. I might just say that right now one of the things that we did at Humavox was join the newly-emerged organization for wireless power standardization. We're actually working with some of the other companies in our space, we all have a common goal. We pretty much understand what the various flavors of wireless charging are doing out there, and realistically I think we're very far off from a point where someone can actually shoot the necessary voltage throughout the room in a way that will be safe and effective for charging. What we're actually talking about right now is trickle charging, it's the ability to shoot raindrops of energy throughout the room that may not charge your device but may keep... I always find myself going back to the example of filling a swimming pool with shot glasses; that may take time. But if the swimming pool is actually full, and then we have those shots or raindrops of water or energy, then this will probably make things last longer. This is the commonality where we see ourselves with some of the other wireless charging technologies that are targeting power over distance. Right now, regulation authorities, FCC, and equivalents are very clear on what they permit with respect to power over the air, especially when the regulation is already out there. I mean, we're using the same frequencies used for Wi-Fi, GSM, Bluetooth, so it's very clear what you can and cannot do. But I think that this is one of the key achievements or progress for wireless charging. Having a single standard organization that will allow several of us various flavors of wireless charging to come together and create something that is serving the purpose, and the purpose here is the life of consumers - you, me and the rest of us.
Paul: Omri, this is one of the biggest problems that I think I've faced. I guess it's a modern world problem, but certainly wires everywhere. I'm sat here next to a plug point because I need to be close to it, the different connectors... It's just a pain and I have always longed for a world where we don't have to think about charging, it just happens around us.
Paul: This is a wonderful problem to solve. Now let's talk about you and your journey because you've got a great idea, you've got a great company. How did you and your friend actually get it off the ground, and start the company and get the funding?
Omri: I'm coming with some personal, let's say, mileage on the entrepreneurial highway. Ever since I can remember myself, whether working for my family's business, which is very far from the high-tech domain, it's actually in the industrial space, ever since I can remember myself, I was working around CNC turning and milling machine, forging, raw materials cutting, everything that takes a material and turns it into a product; ever since I can remember myself, I was starting something from scratch, from an idea, bringing it to a point where it's being used by users and then moving along. I'm also doing some early stage investments myself. It was how you take this idea and how you take this ship and actually start sailing. I have a pretty clear idea, for myself as the person steering the ship, as the CEO of the company. Let's just say... I always have this comparison where I say as a startup company, we're leaving the harbor. We know, or we think we know where our destination is, and then the water is always stormy, no matter what; it's always stormy. And for as long as we have those lighthouses that would remind us what is the real goal for which we took this journey, we'll be able to get there. If we have the right crew, and each member of the crew is really fulfilling their position and destiny, then we'll definitely get there. So what I'm trying to say here is that it's all about the people, and if you the right crew and if you really remember what your true goals are... Because throughout the way you can encounter numerous goals that usually tend to confuse the entrepreneurs - how do you raise money? How do you put the right slide in the right presentation, for the right investors? All of these distractions and background noises can definitely get your ship to shift from its course. For as long as you can remain focused and clear out those background noises, then you'll definitely get there.
Paul: That is wonderful advice. I'm thinking for anyone who is coming into this new, for example listening to you, getting inspired by the potential of doing something themselves, what would you suggest to them? What would be the biggest thing to focus on, if they had to focus?
Omri: Remember that whether you're developing an application, a web service, or wireless charging, focus on who you're developing for, not on who you're trying to sell this technology to. Because engineers will probably keep working with engineers, and that's perfectly fine because without those tremendous engineers we can't have products, but ultimately and usually we're developing for users. And for as long as you really find the right market and the right user for the technology, product or service that you're about to develop, then that will definitely get you there. What I'm trying to say here is ask the right questions, not the buzzwords or trendy questions that show on various web magazines, that can definitely distract people; really ask the right questions, and moreover, the most important thing is listen. I've seen this, and this is probably coming from my investor perspective where I get to take the side corner of the table and look at the teams working and see how you can so easily get distracted, just by listening or focusing on stuff that you read on some blog, that are completely irrelevant for you, but that seems like the right thing to do because billions of people are talking about it on Twitter right now.
Paul: That's wonderful advice. Just the amount of noise out there... How actually did you get feedback from consumers and users? Give us some tips on how you went about that.
Omri: The simple term would be 'have no shame.' Go out to people and talk to them, and whether you're having a coffee and asking your waitress what she thinks - of course if your product is relevant for her. But really go out there and talk to people. For wireless charging as a concept, as a vision, it doesn't take a lot of questions because some things just go without saying: yes, everyone wants a cord-free world, so I don't really need to go out there and ask people whether they want it or not. But then it really comes down to the deployment. Wireless charging in its first generation, like every... You know, there's this famous [unintelligible 00:19:20] research on the adaptation of life-changing technologies, or life-changing contributions and there's always this first curve for several years where this technology pops into life and usually fades in a certain way, and then starts this 15-25 years curve when the technology is really aggregating into life, and that's where we are right now. It was really looking at what happened with wireless charging so far, why have we been hearing about this for ten years, yet I allow myself to believe that you don't have a wireless charging pad on your table right now; I know I don't.
Paul: No, I don't.
Omri: And there is a reason for that. Someone was doing something wrong. I mean, they did a whole lot of right for sure. I'm fortunate enough to share a table occasionally with some of the admirals who were steering this in the first generation, but the approach was wrong, in many ways. Now we have the ability to learn from that, and focus on markets, on verticals and segments where maybe it's not as sexy; when most entrepreneurs start their startups, they all want to sell to the Samsungs and Apples out there, and I do, too, but maybe it's more right to find those users or consumers who really need what you're doing, and through those platforms you can actually escalate and bring the goodness and the benefits of your technology and product. Wireless charging again, as our topic for this conversation, is something so huge... I mean, it's really supposed to take cords out of our lives. It's not something that can be pulled by a single company. The same technology will not be charging electric vehicles and hearing-aid devices; you can't use the same technology for both. You know what, I'll revert on that because I can't say the word "can't", but it's most likely that it won't. This is the beautiful thing about the standard organization right now, it's that we see several flavors, several different technologies starting to sit around the same table and see how we can bring this basically to the benefit of common good. But when you that and you really find those areas, and I believe this is what Humavox did, and even some of the feedback we're getting from our competitors - which we're fortunate to be able to talk with occasionally and get their feedbacks - it seems like we did some right things along the way. So targeting those markets where the technology may not be as shiny, yet way more meaningful.
Paul: Omri, there's two more things I've got to do before we say goodbye to you. One is that I did hear you say that you do take investments into other companies so I'm just wondering, speaking to you from an investor with all these entrepreneurs listening to this show, what would be your big questions that you would focus on and ask when potentially making an investment in a company?
Omri: I don't want to catch trendy buzzwords, so I won't say "my investment philosophy" because I don't work in being an investor; I have some rich friends who do. So I don't have a philosophy. I only invested so far in technologies or products that I believe can that can have a significant impact on common people's life. It can be a medical device, it can be a financing or payment service, but for as long as I believe that it can actually impact life. I don't invest in good businesses or good ideas, I invest in greater people that have great ideas, but only if those ideas can really make a change across the globe, across all people categories. The first thing I ask a person is, "What are you trying to change? What problem are you trying to solve?" Because I meet a lot of guys and girls, entrepreneurs of all sorts, and some of them have some great ideas for money-maker, business product, applications, whatever. That's not my cup of tea. I'm looking for those dramatic impacts, and I'm looking for that sparkling shine in the eye when someone is talking about their product or their invention or their idea. I'm looking at them and usually, I have the capability of understanding whether I believe or not that the person in front of me is actually capable of grabbing hold of the steering wheel and drive this boat or this wagon and execute their idea.
Paul: Omri, that's great because you've just said "What problem are you trying to solve?" is one of your big questions. That is one of the massive themes to come out of all these episodes, with all these great entrepreneurs and founders. It's all about problem-solving, and I try to reinforce that message time and time again. Too many of us get distracted by the noise, as you say, and don't focus on solving a problem.
Omri: For sure. I mean, I can give you one thing that I'm always telling the people I meet. I always start by saying, "Let's put the presentations aside, at least for the first part of the conversation." Because mostly I would see 10-20 slides, 80% or 90% out of which would be stuff taken from the web because someone said it should be in the presentation. Realistically, I just want to hear out the person talking, not reading. I want to be able to understand. And I'm never putting myself... First and foremost, I'm an entrepreneur myself. As I said, I'm not working in being an investor, and as such, I understand the other side most likely better than I understand the investor side. It's really all about understanding what you're trying to pull, why are you doing this? I would say that the majority of the people I meet are great, but they saw something or heard something and came up with something for their personal lives. And that something may be presented as the problem, but in many cases by the time the conversation is over, I think that they themselves realize that the problem maybe isn't as big as they thought it is, and sometimes maybe I turn out as the bad cop, but if I managed to save that person the resources, trouble, pain and gain of getting out there and potentially maybe even raising money, because... I would say one thing that is maybe very important for me to say in this context - and this is actually a part of a philosophy - I always envision this as if there is a virtual pool of money out there, meant to be invested in startups and in new innovations and disruptive ventures. And if someone is squeezing into that pool and managed to drain some of it to something that is maybe not as meaningful, then that resource just went, instead of someone that can actually be using that resource to bring something really greater. So I think that it's sometimes the investor's responsibility to not be judgmental; because probably 90% of the stuff I see, I can't understand. So I'm never being judgmental, but I think that it's about responsibility for everyone to really ask themselves whether this is a cool application that's going to be making some money and maybe there are many ways to execute it, or this is really something that I need to go out there and raise funds from private investors at first, that will be putting in those hundred thousands of dollars on something that may be not as great.
Paul: And Omri, this is a show about apps, so the final thing we're going to part with is, we cannot say goodbye without asking for one or two app recommendations that you could give us... Maybe one or two apps that we haven't come across before.
Omri: One of which would be... And I would first say that I'm very far from being non-biased here, one of them would be Yallo, which is a company I invested into. That's not an endorsement, in any way; I invested because I really believe that what they're doing is tremendous and great. They're reinventing basically the dialer experience. So that's definitely something I recommend, it's available on Google Play and now on iOS.
Paul: And I would say everyone listening to this should have that on their phone, because Yosi Taguri, the CTO was on Episode 358, and if anyone is listening to this and hasn't listened to that episode they should go back and listen to it because it's fascinating.
Omri: Yes, I definitely recommend it, and again, not because I'm a stakeholder there, but because it's really tremendous. The other recommendation would be to something that we all know, but I think it's one of my most used applications, which would be Flipboard.
Paul: Right, yes. Absolutely. What sort of sources of news are you pulling into your Flipboard?
Omri: Well, mostly technology sources, I guess it's not a shock.
Paul: You're allowed that. Omri, I have to say this has been just the most enjoyable conversation and the first time we've actually had a guest who has had to go through a horrendous thunderstorm and keep so professional and so energized. So thank you so much for bearing with us while all hell breaks loose behind you.
Omri: Yes, it just turned into a blizzard.
Paul: Now, all your contact details will be on the show notes, so for anyone who cannot write this down because they are driving, or mowing the lawn, or running away from a thunderstorm, it's Episode 374. Go to theappguy.co and search for Omri Lachman. But for the time being, Omri, how best can people connect with you, reach out and get in touch?
Omri: Either e-mail or LinkedIn would probably be the quickest and best ways to contact me.
Paul: Terrific, okay. Omri, thank you so much for coming on The App Guy Podcast, and all the best. I'm definitely going to have to get you back on when I actually have a device that's charging wirelessly, that's not my toothbrush.
Omri: Well, I invite you, Paul, and all your listeners at CES; we'll be showing some cool stuff and that's coming quick around the corner. And you can always catch up on social media, on Facebook, on Twitter what we're doing, what we're up to. We'll keep heading towards a cords-free world and hoping to make an impact.
Paul: Well, we're all supporting you, we've all got your back. Literally, I think this is the first time a hundred percent of this audience is behind the idea. Thank you so much for coming on.
Omri: Thank you so much for having me, Paul. I appreciate it.